Supporting Family Caregivers After a Loved One's Stroke

Professional home caregiver helps a client out of the car

Professional in-home care helps family help their loved one.

May is National Stroke Awareness Month. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that almost 800,000 people in the U.S. suffer a stroke each year. Although stroke is the fifth-leading cause of death in America, more people today are surviving a stroke than ever before. Many of these survivors will make a full recovery, usually with the help of stroke rehabilitation. Others will be left with permanent disabilities that include paralysis or weakness, emotional changes, and problems with thinking, speaking and understanding speech.

During the recovery process, and as they are living with any long-term effects of their stroke, survivors often need a great deal of assistance and support for the best outcome and quality of life. Recovery can be lengthy. Patients need help managing their rehabilitation regimen and medications. They often need assistance with personal care and eating. Their home may be in immediate need of modifications to accommodate their reduced abilities and to prevent falls.

Family caregivers can become quickly overburdened as they support their loved one's care.

It begins at the hospital. Stroke patients may have trouble understanding, much less remembering, information about their condition, care recommendations, and instructions on how to take medications. Dr. Paul Wright of Northwell Health explained, "In the past, you'd have one doctor come into your hospital room and that would be your physician. But over the years, we've started developing specialties and subspecialties, and now there are 10 or 15 physicians who show up." This can be very confusing, and often, a patient's family must step in to communicate with the medical team.

Next, a stroke patient may be discharged to a rehabilitation center for recovery. But the role of family doesn't end at that point. Though their loved one is receiving professional care and supervision at the facility, families are still an important part of the care team. They visit their loved one; help navigate medical bills, Medicare and other insurance; work with staff to arrange for medical equipment at home; and schedule follow-up appointments.

Coming home after a stroke

When a stroke patient comes home, the real work begins. Many patients wish to return home as soon as possible, to recover in familiar surroundings while receiving continued treatment at an outpatient rehabilitation center. Yet their care needs may still be great, and living independently and safely requires some help! They most likely can't drive. Their home may need to be adapted for one-story living if it has stairs and other obstacles. They may be unable to prepare meals or dress without help. The paperwork alone can be overwhelming. This is when the workload of family members really grows. Said Dr. James Burke of the University of Michigan, "Stroke survivors need a caregiver to spend the equivalent of half of a full-time job each week to help them." His research revealed that "more than half of elderly stroke survivors receive help from a caregiver, requiring 22.3 hours of assistance per week on average. That's nearly double what elderly patients who have not had a stroke require, at an average of 11.8 hours of help."

Providing this care can take a toll on spouses, children and other family caregivers, so much so that they raise their own risk of depression, high blood pressure, heart disease, dementia, diabetes—and, as might be expected, stroke. Their careers can suffer, along with their financial well-being.

Families can't do it alone. They should take advantage of support resources in the community, which might include help from other family and friends, and from local senior support organizations. For help with hands-on care and all-around assistance, professional in-home care is a great way to support a patient's recovery after stroke, while protecting families from stress overload.

Trained, professional caregivers provide:

  • Personal care assistance for clients who need help with bathing, dressing, shaving, going to the toilet, or transferring from bed to chair.
  • Grocery shopping and meal preparation with ingredients and preparation methods that follow the healthcare provider's recommendations, such as for soft foods.
  • Care coordination and transportation to healthcare appointments and rehabilitation sessions, such as physical, occupational and speech-language-swallowing therapy.
  • Prescription pickup and medication reminders. The caregiver can also be alert for the side effects of medications.
  • Laundry and housekeeping services, as well as the removal of hazards that could cause a fall.
  • Supervision for the client's prescribed home exercise program.
  • Professionalism that preserves the client's dignity and normalizes the relationship of client and family.
  • Companionship to brighten the client's spirits, reduce depression and encourage a safe return to walking, independent eating and other activities as recommended by the healthcare provider.

In-home care supports a stroke survivor's compliance with medical and rehabilitation goals to help ensure optimum recovery and independence, and to lower the risk of another stroke. Just as important, it protects the health and well-being of family caregivers.

For information on topics related to home care and healthcare, visit our Home Care and Healthcare Advocacy group on LinkedIn.

Right at Home, Inc. is a national organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for those we serve. We fulfill that mission through a dedicated network of locally owned providers of in home care services.